Andrew Denny – Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells grew up as a free Black in the American South after the Emancipation Proclamation. She was baptized in a Methodist Episcopal Church. Wells focused on fighting the concept of lynching as punishment for blacks in the South after her friend and his two business associates were lynched. Wells worked to discredit the commonly held myth that lynching was an appropriate punishment for blacks who broke the law. Wells fervidly held that the root of violence and lynchings against blacks was social and economic suppression. She felt that this violence towards blacks was not a response to their criminal activity, rather it was utilized to get rid of prosperous blacks who were acquiring wealth and property. In this way, she attacked the very root of lynching and violence in the South. Lynching was a way to discourage and prevent the advancement of black society. Even activist, Frederick Douglas, thanked her for exposing this aspect of lynching. He, before the work of Wells, also believed that lynching was just in response to black criminal activity. Wells believed that the only solution to lynching was the end of the white’s belief in white supremacy over blacks. As long as white supremacy stood as a doctrine, whites would continue to use violence to hold blacks down.

Wells also worked to increase women’s suffrage and increase black women’s participation in politics. She attended the first National Women’s suffrage march along with 60 other black women. They were advised to walk in the back to not offend southern delegates. Wells’ response was, ” Either I go with you or not at all. I am not taking this stand because I personally wish for recognition. I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race”. She worked to increase black women’s voice within the National Women’s Suffrage Movement. She, however, worked to get the right to vote for all women. Even helping to register women of all color and encourage them to become more involved in politics.

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell grew up from a wealthy background. Her father was one of the first black millionaires which allowed her to attend Oberlin University. After moving with her husband to Washington D.C she turned her focus towards issues of racial and women’s inequality. She along with Frederick Douglas worked to fight violence and lynching of blacks in the south. She believed violence against blacks stemmed because whites in the south didn’t see blacks as people only uneducated heathens. In this way, lynching was considered an adequate punishment. Church Terrell worked within a movement she called “Racial Uplift”.  She defined this movement as the belief that blacks would help end racial discrimination by advancing themselves and other members of the race through education, work, and community activism. The main correlation between Terrell and Wells is their agreement of the power white women held over black males in the south. Their accusation essentially sentenced the accused black male to death. Terrell, as opposed to Wells, focused more on the systematic oppression of blacks. This process denied jobs and opportunities in society to people of color. Terrell believed that lynching could not be stopped until, “masses of ignorant white people are educated to a higher moral plane.”

              Terrell also dedicated a lot of her work to the advancement of women. She formed the NACW, National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and served as the president until 1901. She believed that the advancement of black women was crucial to the advancement of the whole race.


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